Occupy movement finds local expression on Bainbridge Island

Organizing an Occupy event wasn’t the kind of thing Bainbridge Island resident Heather Schaefer Scott ever thought she would do.

“We have kids, we still have a house. I can’t get arrested. I’m not going to sleep on the street,” she said Wednesday on the phone from the home she shares with Joe Preston and their four kids.

But her experience at an Occupy Seattle demonstration in October changed all that.

“It was so rewarding,” she said. “I felt inspired.”

She put up an open invitation on Facebook for a salon-style gathering in her home. About 15 people showed up – “truly all ages, all political views” – and talked about the issues, clarifying for themselves how they could or wanted to become more involved.

“You don’t have to do the hardcore thing,” she said. “There are so many bright minds on Bainbridge. Just do what you can do.”

Bright-minded Norm Keegel was lying on his back at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center, where he participates in an exercise class, when the idea for an informational forum came to mind.

He took the idea to Agate Pass Friends, the Seabold-Hall-based Quaker group he attends, which took it to the Kitsap Interfaith Council.

Many  communities have assembled similar meetings, inviting local people with first-hand experience in an Occupy action to share what they know, which is exactly what Keegel did. What makes this forum unique is that some local participants also happen to be at the forefront of the national (and international) conversation about the Occupy movement.

In his book “The Great Turning,” David Korten, Ph.D., wrote: “If you feel out of step with the way things are going in your community, nation, and the world, take heart. Your distress indicates that you are among the sane in an insane world and in very good company.”

Korten is author of the prophetic “When Corporations Rule The World” and “The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism,” and "Agenda for a New Economy," and co-founder and of the Bainbridge-based, globally focused Positive Futures Network and YES! Magazine.

In November, Korten attended an Occupy salon on Bainbridge Island hosted by long-time activists Linda Wolf and Eric Kuhner. For that gathering, Kuhner also invited his father Dr. Ben Kuhner, a member of the Teaparty organization Kitsap Patriots.

Korten and Kuhner sat in the circle, each sharing their unique perspective, Wolf said. And while they had differing views, common ground began to emerge. Both went to Stanford University, in the same year as it turns out, and to their surprise – both lived in the same dorm.


This changes everything

Keegel also invited Sarah van Gelder, executive editor and co-founder of YES! Magazine, and co-editor of “This Changes Everything,” a book that emerged a mere two months after the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City sparked worldwide protests. She’s traveled to numerous Occupy sites in her work for YES! and will offer her insights Saturday.

Two Occupy Seattle “chaplains,” Michael Douglas and Tsukina Blessing, will bring a spiritual perspective to the discussion, and Sydney Jourard, who slept in a tent until the Seattle encampments were dismantled, will share stories from the trenches.

Van Gelder, who lives in Suquamish, also has been involved in the North Kitsap 99 percent group and the Occupy Kitsap group, which are collaborating on a county-wide action March 24, based in Little Boston.

She participates in the general assembly meetings as “one of dozens of organizers, as a citizen who can bring something of my research,” she said. “Everybody can bring something.”


We’re back

For Wolf, the Occupy movement has been part of a larger wave of unrest, one she saw crest at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.

She and islander Neva Welton collaborated on a book, “Global Uprising,” about the issues being raised.

“The editing was complete on Sept. 10,” she said. “We woke up on 9/11 and the movement had shut down. It became dangerous to question the status quo.

“The minute I realized ‘We’re back,’ I thought it was important to be speaking of these things.”

She, Kuhner and good friends gathered days after the first tents started sprouting.

“Educate yourself about the issues, and then find what you’re passionate about,” Wolf said.

People who gathered at Scott’s salon identified three ways people can be involved:

The first, and most obvious, was to pitch a tent, grab a Sharpee and raise your voice in a direct action or march. Some thought laser-targeted effort to affect policy and elections was most effective. Others had more interest in making lifestyle changes – learning how to live more simply, not participating in mass consumerism and Wall Street’s top-heavy agenda.

Occupy Bainbridge’s focus so far has run the gamut of those three options, but as is generally the case on the island, not without putting its own stamp on it.


This is what possibility looks like

Angry youngsters pitching tents on Winslow Way isn’t exactly the island’s style, but a mob of meditators held a silent sit-in at the ferry terminal just before Thanksgiving.  While visually startling, pepper spray wasn’t required to quell the “unrest” or in this case, the rest.

The masses never took to the streets, but the Rev. Senji Kanaeda and Rev. Gilberto Perez, Buddhist monks from Bainbridge, could be seen drumming along SR-305 in January on their way to “Occupy Trident.”

You’re not apt to see anarchists setting things ablaze, but you might get an email soon about renewing your CSA subscription for the 2012 growing season. While most policy change efforts happen behind the scenes, a steady stream of letters to the editor in local media indicates a healthy and engaged citizenry. The signs you’ll see downtown are not about decrying Wall Street, but reminding residents to ‘Think Local First.” Instead of raising a ruckus, this community raises funds for One Call for All,  raises solar panels on the roof at City Hall.

Sustainable Bainbridge board member Kat Gjovik’s involvement has spanned all three forms. She participated in a sign-waving action at the ferry terminal; works with the Washington Public Bank Coalition’s efforts to establish a state bank and promoted a local  “Move Your Money” campaign; she also has been one of the core proponents of establishing a sharing based network called a time bank. (See story below.)

“The Occupy movement is bringing to light the dysfunctional system that is not serving ordinary people who are struggling to make ends meet,” Gjovik said.

Van Gelder points to increases in requests for assistance from Helpline House as an indication that many here are struggling. Zillow, an online real estate database, lists 17 homes on the island in foreclosure today.

“It’s a huge hardship,” Van Gelder said. “What you hear about is the market economy, abstract numbers, but these are families, many with young children, who are living with months of uncertainty and insecurity.”

“Vulture capitalism” Van Gelder called it and the result is an enormous feeling of shame for many who were told if they worked hard and followed the rules they, too, could own a piece of the American Dream.

“You cannot assume that everyone is OK,” she said.  Check in with each other. Ask, ‘How are you doing?’”


Connie Mears, Staff Writer

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